The Second Revolution
Scriptures: John 12:20-33, Mark 8:34-35
There have been two great revolutions in the history of the
world. I'm not talking here about the American Revolution or the French Revolution or the Industrial Revolution. I am talking about something bigger. The first great revolution in the history of the world took place about 12,000 years ago. Up to that time human beings lived by hunting and gathering. They ate nuts, berries, wild seeds, roots, and whatever meat they could catch or kill. But sometime around 12,000 year ago someone came up with a novel idea. I picture it coming from a couple of prehistoric teenagers-early Neolithic geeks. One day they come home from gathering seeds and their father says to him, "Well, how did it go today?"
They say, "Fine." (I don't imagine prehistoric teenagers
communicating any better than modern ones.)
The father says, "Well, how much did you collect?"
One of them says, "I don't know. Maybe a basket full."
"Great," the father says, "Where is it?"
They hesitate, and then one of them says, "Well, we took out all the
seeds and we buried them."
The father says, "You did what?"
The other teenager says, "We took the seeds and we carefully stuck
them in the ground in rows near our house. You see, Dad, we figured that if we bury the seeds in the ground near our house, then by next summer each of them will grow into a new plant that produces even more seeds. And then we won't have to go all over the place looking for seeds, they will be growing right in our backyard."
At that point the father stares at them. He says, "Are you telling me
that you took our dinner-some perfectly good wild seeds-seeds that could have been ground into flour, baked into bread and used to feed this family for an entire week-you took those seeds that you spent all day gathering and you buried them in the ground? Are you crazy?"
Until 12,000 years ago, no one dreamed of wasting perfectly
good seeds of grain or kernels of corn by burying them in the ground. It never occurred to anyone that you might get more grain or more corn or at least more easily accessible grain and corn by giving it up. That was the first great revolution in the history of the world, what paleontologists call the Neolithic or agricultural revolution.
The second great revolution happened about 10,000 years
later. It started with a man whose political career seemed headed for the top. Crowds of people came from everywhere to hear him speak. The day he rode into the capital cheering throngs hailed him as king. Even his enemies said, "The world has gone after him," and sure enough, as if on cue, some Greeks come to one of his followers asking for an appointment. But in less than a week he was dead, not because of an assassination plot or terrorist conspiracy, but because he consciously and voluntarily surrendered himself to be executed by his enemies.
General George Patton once said, "No one wins a war by dying
for his country. You win a war by making the other poor dumb guy die for his country." That is not an exact quote, but you get the idea. Civilization had operated on that principle for 10,000 years. Then along comes this preacher, a carpenter from Nazareth, and he tells people, "Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."
Jesus is talking here, of course, about his approaching
death. We are told back in John chapter 11 that there is a plot to kill him. At the beginning of chapter 12, a woman anoints him with expensive nard, and Jesus praises her for preparing his body for burial. Then in verse 23 Jesus says, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified," and we know from reading John's gospel that this "hour" Jesus keeps talking about is the hour of his death. So when Jesus talks about a grain of wheat falling into the earth and dying, we know he is talking about himself.
But in the process his death will bear much fruit. And that
is what Jesus means when he says, "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." Jesus' death will be the pathway to life for people of all races and languages and nations, even those Greeks who are asking to see him.
This is the second great revolution in the history of the
world. It is not an agricultural revolution; it is a spiritual revolution. It is the startling and quite revolutionary idea that Jesus gives life by dying.
But here is the thing: Jesus is not talking only about himself. He is
also talking about us. In the next verse he says, "Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life."
Jesus is not saying here that you should literally hate your life.
Your life is a precious gift given to you by God. But he is saying that if you live only for yourself, if you live only for what you can get out of life, only for what will give you satisfaction and pleasure, then when your life is over, that's it. There is nothing left. You are a seed that is consumed and disappears.
But if you give your life away, Jesus says, if you plant yourself in
the ground of God's grace, if you put your life, your skills, your time, your resources, even your hopes and dreams into the hands of the God who created, then you will produce an abundant harvest. You will touch many lives, and the impact of your life, the meaning of your life, the existence and joy of your life will go on forever. That is the second revolution.
This week I did a search on Amazon for books with the words
"self-fulfillment" in the title. I got 58,753 hits! There are nearly 60,000 books on Amazon about self-fulfillment. They include title like The Great Heart Way: How to Heal Your Life and Find Self-Fulfillment, or Freedom from Self-Sabotage: The Intelligent Reader's Guide to Success and Self-Fulfillment. There is even the Cliff Notes version: Self-Fulfillment in Ten Pages or Less, which interestingly shows an uncorked champagne bottle on the cover, perhaps explaining why it only needs ten pages.
From reading the synopsis of these books I don't think any of them
talk about a seed falling to the earth and dying. But Jesus does. In our first scripture reading from Mark 8, Jesus says, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it."
Jesus is not telling us to be careless with our lives. But he is
offering the revolutionary idea that we find our lives by giving them away, that we find our purpose and fulfillment in life by losing ourselves in the purposes and love of Someone greater than ourselves.
At the Seattle Presbytery meeting on Tuesday the Presbytery received a
candidate for ministry named Rob Mathis. Rob has an interesting story. For 28 years he was a law enforcement officer in King County. But when he retired, he and his wife decided to move to a rural area of South Africa to work with poor migrants and their families. Their served their almost a year. In his candidacy essay he writes,
During that time we forged incredible relationships with some of the poorest of the poor, started a small preschool in the slum where we worked, developed a small Bible School, provided oversight for a spiritually intimate, multi-cultural home church, built the infrastructure for a neighborhood soup kitchen, helped refurbish an old folks home under our care and generally had the time of our lives spiritually, emotionally, and relationally. That year we felt like we had "died and gone to heaven."
I was struck by that last statement. "We felt like we had
died and gone to heaven." That is not a bad paraphrase of Jesus' words in Mark chapter 8: "Those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it." The irony of self-fulfillment is that we do not find fulfillment in what we do for ourselves. We find fulfillment in losing ourselves in the mission and purpose and love of the One who created us.
Which does not mean you must become a missionary. Rob and
his wife had been planning to stay in South Africa 3-5 years. But one day they got an emergency phone call from Seattle. Their 20 year-old daughter was gravely ill with what turned out to be Guillain Barre Syndrome, a disease that had virtually paralyzed her nervous system. They flew home and spent the next 21 months taking care of their daughter in shifts almost around the clock as she clung to life with a tracheotomy, feeding tubes, and numerous medications. Suddenly their mission in life became different than they had imagined it to be. But no less life-giving. Rob told the Presbytery that in the darkest times of their daughter's illness, when they spent the night more than once wondering if she would survive until morning, on those occasions they discovered they could let go and fall into the hands of God. That's how Rob described it. They learned almost literally what it meant to fall to the ground and die, only to be lifted up and to see their lives as part of God's larger work, more mysterious and complicated and blessed than they ever would have imagined.
That is the second revolution: when you experience your life caught up
in God, and you discover that God can do more with you than you ever would have imagined.